The Opportunity of a Lifetime


Wilson Middle School in San Diego’s diverse City Heights neighborhood will soon be replaced with a remarkable new facility.

Across the United States, as deteriorating schools are crying out for massive renovation or replacement, communities are finding themselves with an extraordinary opportunity to dramatically reshape the learning environment.

One of the core beliefs of the Rainforest Art Project is that positive, creative spaces have a significant impact on a student’s enthusiasm for learning. The most comprehensive study to date on the effects of school environment was conducted by Researchers at the University of Salford in the UK.

Their remarkable findings are that a school’s physical design can improve children’s academic performance by as much as 25 percent in early years.

Architects Jeremy Joyce and Chikako Terada discuss art details for the new campus with Maria Titova, creative director at the Rainforest Art Project.


A remarkable journey

Three years ago, Wilson Principal, David Downey was informed that his school was scheduled to be completely rebuilt. He was thrilled with the idea of moving into a state-of- the-art facility, with a beautiful performing arts theater and new arts and technology labs, but David was keenly aware that a quality school is much more than brick and mortar.

He wanted his students to be involved in the creation of an enduring icon, a symbol of pride, which would embody the spirit and culture of this historic (nearly one-hundred year old) school. With a grant from Price Charities, the professional artists at the Rainforest Art Project began working with students to design the dramatic “Wilson Tiger Bench”. For over five months, the students took their turns at patiently sorting and precisely adhering over 40 thousand polished, colored stones from all around the world. The results are truly extraordinary.

It will be nearly two more years before the new campus will be completed, and Wilson the Tiger will arrive at his final place of honor.

Along with the Rainforest Art Student designed stained glass at the school entry, they will be the only artifacts to escape the wrecking ball, and help to usher in a bright new

era for this wonderful school.


Wilson Middle School students apply polished stones to the surface of Wilson the Tiger. “Noble and majestic, Wilson the Tiger represents the heart and soul of our school. He will be with us to provide continuity and comfort to students and faculty as we relocate into our new campus,” said David Downey, principal.


The new campus

Central Elementary School is also getting a new home, and will be relocating next to Wilson Middle School, making this a grand combined facility, featuring cutting-edge innovations which are sure to inspire ideas for future school designs throughout San Diego and beyond.

The architects have gone to extraordinary lengths to understand the community, and design structures which generously contribute to the aesthetics of the neighborhood.

Learning spaces are precisely positioned to take full advantage of natural light and ventilation, and the traditional narrow hallways have been virtually eliminated in favor of common areas which are surrounded by classrooms.

These, along with creative outside learning spaces inspire a wonderful sense of community, which will lead to greater social interaction and academic collaboration.


Making history

Several years ago, Cindy Marten, Superintendent of San Diego Unified Schools made the surprise announcement that students throughout the district would be involved in the creation of permanent art for their schools.

Through the extraordinary vision and generosity of the Burnham Foundation and Price Charities, thousands of students have already participated in these projects, which provide them with an unprecedented sense of pride and ownership.

Now, history is in the making, as student designs are being incorporated throughout the spectacular new Wilson Middle School and Central Elementary School grounds, and they will be busy with their projects right up until it is time to move in.

From stunning stained glass entry windows to beautiful sculptures, logos and wayfinding signs, the campus is designed to take you on an engaging journey of discovery, following the theme of the tiger.

Never before have students in San Diego been so involved in the creation of their new environment, right from the ground up.

This level of engagement is unprecedented, and can provide an inspirational example of trust and partnership, as schools throughout the country look to upgrade and replace their aging facilities.

Many of the Rainforest Art Project students will have moved on to high school by the time the new campus is completed, but for all who have participated, it is certain that they will take lasting pride in knowing that they have made their unique contributions to the new, very innovative, and truly remarkable Wilson Middle School.

Students’ designs assembled in beautiful stained glass panels at the entry of Wilson Middle School.

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